Ex-Liverpool ace hailed by Rafa Benitez as “best for his age” eyeing EFL Trophy success

Former Anfield goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis is hoping EFL surprise package Sutton United can pull off another shock as they take on Rotherham United in the Papa John’s Trophy final at Wembley

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A goalkeeper once touted as the best in the world for his age group by former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is today hoping to seal Wembley glory.

Australian Dean Bouzanis was just 16 when he made a potentially career-changing move to Anfield from the other side of the world. Benitez had liked what he had seen after the Aussie impressed for his country’s under-17s side before duly catching the eye during a trial at Melwood.

“I remember getting moved up to the first team and getting my first-team squad number and seeing that up on the wall. Little things like that I’ll never forget,” Bouzanis says, as he reflects on that period. “At the start it is very nerve-racking and a bit of a dive into the deep end. But at the same time you’re a professional and have to put that to one side to try and make a career for yourself, because you’re still a young boy. Before you know it they become teammates and friends.”

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Despite Benitez’s billing, Bouzanis never made a senior appearance for Liverpool but he still has fond memories of his time at the club, between 2007 and 2011. Fifteen years on, he is now hoping to return to the national limelight as he aims to help Sutton United seal an eye-catching first piece of Football League silverware. The South London club sealed promotion to the EFL for the first time in their history last season. But rather than merely aim for consolidation, Matt Gray’s side are in the shake-up for a second successive promotion.

Before that though comes the small matter of the EFL Trophy final at Wembley against Rotherham United. The Millers are heavy favourites but Sutton have often relished the tag of underdogs this term, and Bouzanis has proved vital as the last line of defence in goal. Despite acknowledging the club’s superb achievements, the former Liverpool stopper refuses to accept that they have over-achieved.

Dean Bouzanis helped Sutton United earn promotion last season and is starring again in their quest to get out of League Two

Speaking to the Guardian, the 31-year-old added: “It is a massive achievement, getting promoted, really pushing on and having a chance of going up from League Two this year, and then getting this fantastic day out. You can say we have overachieved but I don’t look at it like that. We’ve got a lot of good players. We know what we’re good at. We pride ourselves on being hard to break down because we believe we can score the goals to win us the match.”

Whilst most footballers tend to switch off once they return home to family, Bouzanis is able to instead share the experiences of being a full-time athlete. His partner is fellow Aussie and Arsenal star Steph Catley. The pair met whilst Bouzanis was at Melbourne City, with Catley playing for the women’s side.

A fresh-faced Bouzanis was tipped for big things after joining Liverpool aged 16

Both moved to London in 2020 and are enjoying plenty of success at their current employers. “Being a footballer, you want to play in these big games and have these moments and to be able to share them together – it is special,” Bouzanis said. “It is a great fit because we understand each other and what it takes, whether you have to go away, move clubs, you might have to do a bit of long distance, which we had to do at the start of our relationship.

“To be able to come back here in the prime of my career and be successful at Sutton, it means a lot to me and my family. If I keep fit and look after my body, I could play for another seven or eight years, which a lot of keepers are doing nowadays.”

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